Telling Stories at Strathcona

Strathcona Elementary School in Hamilton was the first-place winner the 2016 Telling Tales Explore Your World School Contest. On December 15, 2016 they enjoyed their prize – an author visit by Andrew Larsen!

The winning class worked together to create a large masterpiece inspired by Andrew’s book The Imaginary Garden. As their prize, the school received this unique author experience. Find out more about the school’s winning entry.

We are all storytellers

When Andrew was young, he didn’t know he could be a storyteller. He thought he was going to be a hockey player. He played road hockey and made up stories where he was playing in game seven of the Stanley Cup finals.

To the amazement of the students, he told them, “In kindergarten I became an author.” Then he showed the students the very first book he made. It was a gift for his mom. He made books for his family, and encourages kids to make their own handmade books for grown-ups.

During his presentation, Andrew gave students an inside look into his stories and how he came up with the ideas. “Ideas for stories are all over the place. We are all full of stories.”

Andrew Larsen with his first book

Andrew Larsen showing the students his first book – he made it in kindergarten.

How to grow a book

The idea for his book The Not-So-Faraway Adventure grew out of The Imaginary Garden. He had an idea as he was travelling on the subway in Toronto on a summer day. His idea was the joy of painting. His mom and daughter paint together, and he wanted to explore how the painting develops as the story develops.

Andrew sat at the computer and wrote a first draft in three to four days.

Then he asked the Strathcona students to guess how many drafts it took to reach the final story in the book. They were surprised to find out it took almost 100 drafts to make the story just right. “Like shining silver,” explained Andrew, “it gets better each time.”

At draft 60 he knew it was good enough to be a book. He worked with an editor to help fix the story, offer suggestions and make the story work better. There were a lot of changes, and it was hard work, but Andrew did not give up.

He continued working on it, and an artist did the illustrations to accompany his words. The characters of his mom and daughter eventually turned into the story’s main characters: Papa and Theo. That first idea he had on the subway grew up into a book.

A sequel

The book did very well, and has been translated into different languages and sold all around the world.

Due to its popularity, Andrew wanted to write another story with these same characters. He thought about a few ideas, and then one day his father-in-law came over and asked his daughter to go out for French fries. They ended up spending the whole day looking for the best fries around Toronto, and simply having fun together. So their adventure looking for food inspired The Not-So-Faraway Adventure.

Sharing stories and writing advice with students.

Andrew Larsen sharing stories and writing advice with students.

Writing advice for kids

Writing can be hard. Often the challenge is where to begin, so Andrew reminded the students, “Every story starts with a single word. So start with ‘I’. Then ask yourself questions: Then what? What did I do today? I woke up and it was snowing. That can lead into it being a story about a snow day. Who is the character?  Always ask yourself: ‘and then what?’”

Fun facts

  • The biggest challenge for Andrew is ending a story; he has changed the ending on virtually every book he wrote
  • He has nine published books and six are coming out between now and 2019
  • A Squiggly Story is based on Andrew’s school visits and the many questions kids ask him
  • A Squiggly Story took five years to write
  • Every year Andrew writes a Christmas story and gives it to his family
  • He gets ideas when he hears snippets of conversations
  • He has given his mom 40-50 handmade books
Andrew signed a special book for the winning class.

Andrew signed a special book for the winning class.